I've been somewhat athletically-inclined my whole life and have reasonably strong opinions on food. To maximize physical performance, you need to eat a decent amount of protein and many carbohydrates. For my personal desires, I need lots of savory food, and I tend to not react well to large amounts of carbs in one day, as I wake up extremely hungry the next day.
And yet, last week I decided to do a juice diet for the first time in my life. It was a series of carb-heavy, solid-light concoctions, each one less appealing on paper than the last. I made it through, and have some thoughts, mostly positive.
I've put on some weight since the marathon in July. The weight has also come with some very bad habits that I'm trying to break, but I've struggled with my emotional relationship to my diet and sleep. When I'm hungry and sleepy, it doesn't really matter what I intended to happen: bad choices will happen.
After a drive down to southern California 2 weeks ago, I felt like I needed to hit a reset button. I don't know what drove me to juicing as that button. As I mentioned, I considered juicing actively harmful for my desired active lifestyle. But I wasn't active. I was the ultimate couch potato, growing both skinnier and fatter by the day. Something drastic needed to happen, and by the time I made it home from my trip, I was fully committed to a full work week of consuming only juice.
People really hype up juice diets. I think that's why I have such an aversion to them. Conceptually they already didn't make much sense to me, but then people would rave about how transformative the experience was. My fiancee told me about how great it was to "feel empty," whatever that meant. I've had colleagues tell me about how amazing it was to have "natural energy," which to me sounded like they were just consuming way to much fructose in one sitting.
I'm lucky enough to have a very supportive fiancee, who brought me a much wider selection of juice-able materials than I would have purchased for myself, and who already owns a masticating juicer so I could make juices at home. I went into the week with 3 or 4 days of materials with plenty of variety to keep my cooking brain happy.
In the spirit of a mental and physical reset, I didn't make my first juice until I started getting very hungry. It turns out you can go a long time with just a liter of water and some salt, so it wasn't till almost 2 in the afternoon that I went to chop up my first victims.
This was my first realization: you really don't need that much food. And you certainly don't need it that often. Sure, when I was playing baseball competitively, it was to my advantage to eat many small meals during the day. That style of eating is objectively better for physical performance. But I'm not playing college baseball anymore. I'm a programmer, and sometimes my maximum physical output for the day occurs on the throne.
I made 2 20oz juices Monday and went to bed feeling uneasy. I didn't have a headache, but I was in a bit of a fog. I wasn't sleepy, but I was in bed by 9 and slept till 9. I wasn't hungry, but I couldn't stop thinking about solid food. And I wasn't in a bad mood, but I definitely wasn't energetic or smiling.
Days 2 and 3
Things were tough on Tuesday and Wednesday. I had many more meetings than normal and really started to run out of steam. My juices were quite tasty, though I found them unsatisfying.
Realization 2: texture influences how I think about food far more than I thought. Juice is too smooth and thin, even when I make it myself and don't water anything down. It's not satisfying in the way that rice or an egg might be, and as a result I find myself dreaming about lasagna and potato chips.
I also found the juices to be too sweet, or maybe too not-savory. Part of that is my fault, since I have fully control over the ingredients. But even when I made (almost) 100% leafy green juice, I found it lacking something that would leave me satisfied.
In the evening, I went to a birthday celebration for my fiancee's former boss. When it came time to socialize at a nearby restaurant, I found myself angry at the thought of other people eating.
I made it through the days in a kind of daze, again sleeping rather absurd hours but not really in bad shape. I kept expecting a headache or super strong craving to kick in, since that's what folks warned me about. But it never happened; I was just always kind of unhappy.
Days 4 and 5
On Thursday I went to the office. My idea was: I shouldn't do any strenuous exercise, but I should get out and try to live life a little. I could at least hang out with people at work and see how the diet influenced my social interactions.
I found myself supremely disappointed in commercial juice. Since work gives me a lunch budget when I'm in the office, I decided to try ordering in, and was repulsed by the flavors provided.
Somehow I'd made it the whole week without putting any citrus in my juices, but commercial juice is chock full of lemons, and I found it rather repulsive. This was very strange for me, since I normally love tart foods and fruits, but under these conditions I just couldn't deal with it.
My Friday juices were much more satisfying as a result, though I still couldn't shake the feeling of everything being slightly off. I was plagued by thoughts of food and went on a huge binge of Mexican cooking shows to convince myself that I need to buy a molcajete soon, and separately that I should try making my own mole. Sometime Friday morning I realized that a good 40 or 50% of all my brainpower for the week had gone into thinking about food.
Quitting while ahead
Some might say that these food cravings needed to run their course for me to have a proper "cleanse." By I wasn't interested in a cleanse, and as the weekend came on and friends came to town to visit, I realized that I had still accomplished my goal: I had given myself a true dietary reset, even if it wasn't a full 2 week experience.
I came out of my juice diet energized, not physically but emotionally and mentally. I was suddenly excited to eat reasonable portion sizes, and drink reasonable amounts of alcohol. I wanted to carry over my morning water and salt routine. But more than anything, I was starving for strenuous exercise.
I was no longer weighed down by excess greasy food and beer. I was "empty" as promised, though I really didn't like the feeling. But the emptiness was energizing, so much so that I finally wrote myself a fall workout plan.
So, was the diet a success? Yes. Did I enjoy it? No. But I also didn't dislike it. It was far too many carbs for me, as by Friday I was waking up with hunger pangs from the excess carb intake the day before. I didn't even lose weight! But the diet put me in a position to start making better choices for myself, and feel better about myself while doing so.